If you’re going to play a strategy game, you might as well be playing as military great George S. Patton. Legends of War: Patton plays out in a semi-fictionalized WWII, and follows US forces from their landing at Normandy on a campaign to retake Paris and march on to Berlin. In spite of some gameplay hitches and a broken soundtrack, it’s a solid strategy game, and Patton is a mostly successful campaign.
The game is turn-based strategy with some light RPG elements. You can select a number of units from those available for each mission, including soldiers, tanks and support planes. Each unit has a set amount of movement and attacking they can execute in a turn. You control both the movement of the units and what actions they execute during each turn, like firing a gun or lobbing a grenade, which requires you to think on both large and small scales.
Each mission earns prestige points, which can be used to heal existing units or recruit new ones. Healing units (as well as keeping them alive in battle) is important – as individual soldiers see more action they will level up, gaining attributes. It’s a nice twist that keeps units from being simply disposable, and it rewards smart play. Success also rewards you with skill points, which can be applied to categories like offensive and defensive power, or earning more prestige. Skill points are universal, and apply to every unit you use, but there’s no indicator when you earn them, so you’ll need to check occasionally to see if there are some to assign.
In addition to standard ground units, you can recruit specialty units like snipers and paratroopers, and bigger units including several varieties of tank. In addition to different weapons, units may have special skills, like medic or mechanic. Some have less obvious skills, like the ranger, who can see farther than a standard unit. Having the right unit is essential to success; for example, enemy tanks cannot be damaged with standard weapons or grenades, so if you don’t have a tank or bazooka unit (or they’ve been killed), you can’t finish some missions.
Controlling the camera so you can see your surroundings is a major component of the game, and it’s handled well. You can pan in all four directions and zoom in and out easily, although it would have been nice if you could zoom out a little farther. The left and right bumpers switch between units, which is a pain when you have to cycle through five or six to get the one you want. It’s a necessary evil, but the order seems arbitrary, and it would have been nice to be able to jump directly to control of whatever unit you were currently viewing.
Navigating with a specific unit works well. You can create a path based on the number of steps you can take, and when moving the path, the game smartly routes around obstacles. It doesn’t take much to get your unit exactly where you want it. Moving and attacking can be mixed, so you can have a troop move half its allotted distance, fire, and then use the other half of its move to duck behind a building. I did wish there was a cancel option, though. Once you have a unit on the move it can’t be stopped, even if halfway through you realize you’re walking into the path of a turret.
On the battlefield you can only see enemies based on the sight range of your characters. You can pull the camera back and pan over the entire area, but you won’t actually see opposing forces until you have a unit within range. Fleeing enemies will disappear when they’re beyond your sight, but in one instance, an enemy that was in range disappeared as soon as my turn started (making it impossible for me to attack it), and then reappeared when my turn ended.
While the sight concept makes sense for enemies, it’s clumsily applied to tanks as well, and they’ll disappear in an open, well-lit area as soon as they reach that magic distance from you. A tank entering is a problem at times as well. In an early mission, your task is simply to stay alive for a certain number of turns as enemy soldiers close in around you. Around the tenth turn, a tank simply appeared about twenty feet from one of my soldiers and well within visual range.
The single player game has five difficulties. On the lowest, your troops are more accurate and take a lot of damage, and that scales back accordingly as you proceed up in difficulty. On higher difficulties, enemies did a better job of keeping cover, but offensive and defensive stats on both sides were the main difference. On all difficulties, enemies will fire at you as soon as you cross their line of sight, regardless of whose turn it is (your forces do the same).
Patton supports local multiplayer, with player two assuming the role of the Germans. The multiplayer setup is the same as playing a single player mission outside of the campaign. You start with a set amount of prestige and can use it to recruit or upgrade troops however you choose. Like the single player, tanks and planes are limited to maps where you have a fuel allotment, so they cannot be used in every stage.
Visually, the game is solid. Green and red cones mark sightlines and also the accurate firing range for your units. When aiming, the cone will split if a pole or other obstacle obstructs your shot, which is nice. There are a few different environments that fighting takes place in, and whether in a military camp or a small town, the visuals match the style nicely.
The game’s audio is a different story. The backdrop for missions is a rather grand and sweeping musical score that sounds great until it randomly cuts out, which happens quite often. In those instances you’re treated to several seconds of silence before the track restarts. It was so jarring and distracting that I eventually turned the background music off. I did the same for the character voices, which varied between two extremes. On some turns I could jump from unit to unit with no sound, on other turns every one I clicked through yelled “Ready for battle, sir!” or something of the like. Better spaced out, it probably would have been fine; clustered as they were, it felt like my troops had declared war on my ears.
As someone who has never really played turn based strategy games, Legends of War: Patton was initially intimidating, but the tutorials explain things well and I was able to find my bearings pretty quickly. The combat was good, although hardcore strategy fans may find the single player lacking AI depth. Having your troops rank up is cool though, and I actually started to get weirdly attached to some of the guys I had since the beginning. It’s not without fault, but as long as you turn most of the audio off it’s a solid, enjoyable game.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.